NEWS to Supreme Court: “The eyes of Washington public school children are upon you.”

NEWS attorney Tom Ahearne prepares for the hearing as members of the Venema and McCleary families look on from the front row.

In a hearing before the Washington State Supreme Court today, NEWS and the State of Washington presented two sharply divergent views of whether or not the State has finally complied with the mandates of McCleary – each side facing tough questions from the Court. NEWS argued the Legislature has failed to appropriate “ample funding” as mandated by the State Constitution for every element of basic education – from teacher salaries to class size reductions to transportation to special education – while the State declared “full implementation, full funding and compliance with Article IX [the ‘paramount duty’ clause].” Watch the hearing on TVW.

The Court gave no indication of how it might rule, but is expected to do so before the end of the year.

Justices appeared to focus on the failure of the biennial budget passed earlier this year to fully address teacher salaries, phasing it in over 2018-19 and 2019-20 instead of meeting the Court’s mandate to fully implement “full funding” by Sept. 1, 2018.

State’s attorney Alan Copsey explained that the Legislature could not be expected to provide such huge funding increases “all of a sudden,” which drew stern comments from at least one justice who reminded him that the McCleary case was decided by the Supreme Court in 2012.

“It takes time to build consensus,” Copsey said, drawing a response from the bench that the Court’s job is to focus on constitutional compliance, not legislative consensus building.

Attorney Tom Ahearne responds to questions from the media after the hearing.

NEWS attorney Tom Ahearne emphasized that K-12 funding still falls far below the constitutional requirement of “ample”. The State’s new budget simply funds the status quo for teacher salaries, not enough to attract and retain qualified educators. The budget also fails to cover the actual costs of K-3 class size reductions because the State failed to pass a construction budget to pay for additional classrooms. Every aspect of State funding for K-12 education falls short, Ahearne said.

“The eyes of hundreds of thousands of public school kids today in Washington are upon you. You have told them, each and every one has a paramount constitutional right to an amply funded education. You have told them the State must amply fund that education as its highest priority above anything else. You have told them the State’s budget must be providing that ample education by Sept. 1, 2018. And you have told them that you will be vigilant in upholding and enforcing that right. Show kids today they can rely on the judicial branch to follow through on what it says.”

He asked the Court to assess more stringent sanctions that would compel the State to invest more money in K-12 schools, likening the action to a plane taking off.

“This was a big lift and that’s why this Court gave the Legislature six years of runway to get this heavy lift off the ground,” he said. “Now they’re at the end of the runway and it’s going to be a very difficult lift. But the Legislature can do that.”